Still no Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) for the most vulnerable as harsh lockdown imposed and humanitarian crisis deepens #PayTheGrants
As we face the devastating effects of the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the evidence of our government’s failure has become all too clear. Level 4 restrictions have been announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa without social relief measures. This is a slap in the face of the poor and the unemployed and demonstrates the total unwillingness to learn from previous lockdowns.
With record high unemployment, how can there be no relief measures for the 11.4 million people who have no income? The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant was terminated in April 2021 despite all evidence pointing to the power of increased social relief in combating hunger. The end of the caregivers top up and the exclusion of caregivers from receiving the SRD grant further plunged families into crisis.
While support has ended there has been little recovery from the first and second waves. In fact, business closures and job losses will take a long time to recover. It is only the privileged few South Africans who can work from home, drive in their own cars, access clean water and effectively practice social distancing. These are luxuries of the minority while the majority live in poverty and survive day to day despite hunger, inadequate services and increasing food prices.
There are also no relief measures for informal sector workers, who have been terribly affected by the pandemic. In 2014 Stats SA estimated the informal sector contributed 6% of GDP, this figure likely excludes the contribution of employed domestic and care workers whose labour allows others to work. Relief measures need to ensure support for the 4.5 million people in the informal economy who create the wealth of this country but are ignored or criminalised. They have to clothe, educate and feed their families while their savings have been all but dried up not by the effects of previous lockdowns but by an unjust socio economic system built on precarious livelihoods.
Budget cuts to social spending of up to R265 billion further exacerbate the violation of people’s human rights. There will be no end to this downward spiral without an urgent change in the attitude of our leaders to the people they should be accountable to. It is enraging that the Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and others implicated in corruption and looting of peoples taxes in this unprecedented time of suffering have not been held accountable. The violence that this reaps can be seen in the halls of our public hospitals which have gone down in flames, and whose corridors are filled with cases of child malnutrition and oxygen shortages as we struggle to control the pandemic while vaccines remain out of reach.
Using the latest labour statistics (QLFS 2021q1), we estimate that up to 350,000 restaurant workers will be locked out of work over this level 4 – affecting 1.3 million people including their dependents, and far more considering effects on other sectors like transport. The situation is already dire, with nearly 1 in 4 people falling below the food poverty line. And yet, we estimate that by extending and increasing the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and allowing Caregivers to qualify for the grant, the vast majority of those below the food poverty line would be brought above it.
Extreme poverty is a policy choice that the government makes on a daily basis. As the #PayTheGrants Campaign we have written several times since January 2021 demanding an urgent meeting with the President, Ministry of Social Development and National Treasury, but our requests have been ignored. The demands that we laid out remain urgently relevant:
- Extend and increase the Covid-19 R350 SRD grants to at least the food poverty line of R585 per person per month;
- Reassess the unduly harsh and narrow criteria for accessing the grant;
- Ensure that caregivers qualify for the SRD grant, regardless of whether they are receiving a child support grant on behalf of their children;
- Institute retrospective pay for recipients in the event that the grant is not immediately extended; and
- Outline clear and urgent steps to progress towards implementation of the long-overdue Basic Income Guarantee (grant) for those aged 18 to 59.
A BIG should be unconditional, this means it would not exclude anyone. It should not replace existing social grants, but be implemented alongside them. The SRD grant is a gateway to a BIG which is rooted in the idea that cash transfers to every adult between the ages of 18 to 59 every month with no strings attached may be the smartest way to end poverty and affirm everyone’s moral and social right to the economy.
We urgently need government ministries and agencies to coordinate interventions alongside a BIG by combining it with an active labour market and industrial policy that boosts job creation, livelihood support through access to childcare, transportation, data and universal basic services. BIG is not in itself a silver bullet; but with one of the highest inequality and unemployment levels in the world and rising hunger, it is the bare minimum. There is no time to waste as unprecedented suffering continues to rise and we have it within our means to take drastic action within our uncontestable constitutional obligations.
For comment, please contact:
Daddy Mabe: +27 79 611 5527
Whatsapp: +27 65 282 1793